The Before Picture/Site Analysis

The Before Picture/Site Analysis

Part of Ep. 601 Landscaping with Wisconsin Wildflowers

Join Evelyn Howell, professor of Landscape Architecture at UW-Madison as she discusses site analysis--the very first step of garden design.

Premiere date: Feb 28, 1998

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
Whether you're plannng to put in a prairie garden or even a pond with a few flowers around it, starting out correctly will mean the difference between success and failure later on. I'm with Evelyn Howell, Professor of Landscape Architecture for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Evelyn specializes in landscaping with native species. Evelyn, how do we start out properly then, when we're planning a garden?

Evelyn:
I think the first thing to do is what we call a site analysis which means essentially walking the property that we're going to be doing the landscape plan for and noting the features that are important for our thinking process.

Shelley:
Like the house-- the permanent structure.

Evelyn:
Yeah, a permanent structure, like the house or the garage. And also, the fence that I see...

Shelley:
The boundaries, then.

Evelyn:
The boundaries of the site. And I like to do this with a map-- actually, a piece of graph paper. I just rough out the features on it, so that I know roughly where they're located.

Shelley:
Do you have to measure?

Evelyn:
No, you don't have to measure. But on the other hand, the more accurate you are the better.

Shelley:
Okay.

Evelyn:
Now, one of the features of this site, I see, is a walnut tree, which I think you would really want to keep in the plan. It's a very nice large tree nice. It's got a nice shape to it. I would like to know where on the plan its located, and also, some idea of the extent of the canopy because that's going to be where the shadows are cast.

Shelley:
So, the drip line, the shade area.

Evelyn:
And reason that's important, is because with praire they have to have eight hours of sun during the growing season a day at the least. So, we need to know where shadow patterns might be.

Shelley:
I would assume with a high canopy like this, it's probably not as big an issue as a maple might be.

Evelyn:
Right, this won't be posing much of a problem. But still, it's good to know where the canopy might is, and then also have a feel for where the shadows are going to be cast.

Shelley:
Actually, the bigger problem-- I've always been told, "walnuts, get 'em out of your yard. Nothing will grow under them."

Evelyn:
Well, luckily, they're native to Wisconsin, so the native Wisconsin species are used to walnuts and can grow with them.

Shelley:
So, a prairie can grow under a walnut.

Evelyn:
As long as there's enough light. A prairie or a species that are adapted a little bit more to the shade will be able to grow fine with walnuts.

Shelley:
Finally, there's hope!

Evelyn:
Now, on this site, we might notice a couple of other species to be concerned about, or at least take note of. On the border, I noticed there's quite a bunch of sumac, which are another native species but they spread. And they can be aggressive, creeping into the prairie. So, we want to note that on the map so that we can be cognicent of that when we do the planting.

Shelley:
Would that stop us from putting in a prairie?

Evelyn:
It won't stop us, but we need to know they're there. We'll make plans accordingly.

Shelley:
So, other weedy-- the creeping charlie in the lawn.

Evelyn:
Creeping charlie in the lawn is going to be-- We need to make note of it, because we're going to need to do the site preparation a little differently knowing we have creeping charlie.

Shelley:
Okay.

Evelyn:
Also, I noticed there's some viburnum on the borders of the property, which are a nice native plant. But again, we have to take note of their existence, because they can also creep out into the prairie.

Shelley:
So, even things that we planted deliberately may be a problem.

Evelyn:
They may be a problem, that's right. And another thing to think about is drainage. And I notice a little bit beyond the viburnums, there's a low spot in the yard.

Shelley:
It looks like water can pool there in the spring.

Evelyn:
That's right. And so, we may want to choose some species that like those kinds of wet spring conditions.

Shelley:
So, even a puddle isn't going to deter us from putting in prairie plants.

Evelyn:
In fact, it's good. It gives us some diversity. We can have some different species there than in the upper portions of the site. So, it's a good thing.

Shelley:
What about views? Do we want to situate this praire so that we can look at it in different ways?

Evelyn:
That's right. And on this site I noticed two kinds of things to think about. One is the view from the house-- the windows, sitting on the porch. Actually note on the plan where those are located on the house, so that you can then plan the plantings so that it looks really nice from those areas.

Shelley:
From inside, okay.

Evelyn:
And another piece on this property is a different kind of view, which is looking outward. I noticed quite an outstanding shed...

Shelley:
Very white.

Eveyln:
Visually outstanding-- that we probably would like to screen from the house.

Shelley:
So, maybe some tall prairie grasses.

Evelyn:
Tall prairie grasses or something else that will keep it from being seen from the house. But at the same time, notice the beautiful view of Blue Mounds...

Shelley:
The state park up there...

Evelyn:
That you want to enhance.

Shelley:
So, in the fall, you wouldn't want that blocked out for certain.
Evelyn:
Right, in fact, you might want to do some plantings to make it more obvious, which is a good way to look at that. Now, another think to think about on this site is the use of the site.

Shelley:
Oh, okay.

Evelyn:
Where the kids might play, where the dogs might run if there are dogs in the vacinity...

Shelley:
Sure. Where the wheelbarrow goes...

Evelyn:
Right, any utility lines that you may have, septic tank locations, septic fields...

Shelley:
Wwhere I might work, like have the compost pile things like that, too.

Evelyn:
Right, all those things-- just sketch them in on the site, so you can plan around them. And another feature that's really important to know about is the soil.

Shelley:
What kind.

Evelyn:
Right, what kind. We don't care what kind you have, you just want to know what it is, because you want to be able to pick the plants accordingly.

Shelley:
So, are we going to be ammending the soil then or?

Evelyn:
No soil ammendments with prairie. In fact, we discourage that.

Shelley:
Oh, good!

Evelyn:
It may actually help the weeds along rather than the prairie.

Shelley:
So, what your saying, then, is it's more important-- whether its clay or loam, we just need to know that.

Evelyn:
We need to know what it is, that's right.

Shelley:
What if I'm unsure?

Evelyn:
Well, if you're unsure, I would suggest you get a soil test done
so that you know for certain what's there.

Shelley:
That might also be a good idea if it's a new home with maybe really strange soil or if there's a problem where something doesn't grow at all.

Evelyn:
That's right, I would do the test. And then, also thinking of soils, I like to do a drainage test on the site. And what that means is you dig a hole about two inches deep, fill it with water, let it drain, fill it with water again and see how long it takes that second pot of water to drain through. And that way, you'll know if you have a well drained soil or a poorly drained soil.

Shelley:
And again, we just need to know. It doesn't stop us from planting prairie plants.

Evelyn:
Not at all. In fact, you just need to know which it is, so you can choose the plants accordingly.

Shelley:
Okay, great. Thanks Evelyn. So remember, a proper site analysis now will save you a lot of problems later on.

EPISODE SEGMENTS+

Funding for The Wisconsin Gardener is provided, in part, by The Wisconsin Master Gardener Association.